The majority of the poor people worldwide are women. The reasons for this are manyfold, with large regional differences, starting with a global illiteracy rate of 17 %. Two thirds of all illiterates are women, which makes gender equality even more difficult to achieve. 37 % of all 775 million illiterates worldwide are Indian, followed by China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Three regions predominate in illiteracy rates: South Asia, West Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition to the illiteracy problem, women continue to face many barriers in entering labor markets, holding not only women back, but also being an obstacle for economic growth and development in countries with large gender gaps.
Worldwide, between 2002 and 2007, women´s employment-to-population ratio remained constant at about 49 %, compared to about 73 % for men. On a global level, differences are large, with regional narrowings in the Developed Economies and European Union, Latin America, Caribbean, and in the Middle East. Only Central and Eastern Europe, and East Asia increased their gender gaps in employment.
Furthermore, a lack of knowledge, together with deeply rooted cultural traditions and expectations as well as a complexity of the labor market, are general reasons for gender inequality – affecting and hindering women from having equal access to the labor market.
Whereas conventional economic analysis is a comprehension of economic actors in mainstream economics, it excludes much of unpaid work, and sees people simply as labor inputs to production processes. Even in developed countries, most unwaged (home)work is still done by women – more than 60 BILLION hours per year including childcare, and women providing 59 % of unpaid services. In general, women´s home work is ignored, classically “feminine” jobs are poorly paid, and of low status.
A number of local and global organizations, either independently or/and in co-operation with the private and public sectors, are driving changes in order to improve women´s lives worldwide, and to narrow down gender gaps, including UN Women as perhaps the most widely known.
Gender equality is more than a matter of social justice – it is a fundamental human right, making good economic sense. Women having equal access to education, and women participating fully in business and economic decision-making, are a key driving force against poverty. Women with equal rights are better educated, healthier, and have greater access to land, work, and financial resources. The enhancement of women´s control over decision-making in households, gender equality also leads to better prospects and greater well-being of children, reducing poverty of future generations. (UNDP. Gender and Poverty Reduction. 23.10.2014).
Women need to drive these changes, but equally, strong support from men is relevant, including an understanding of why gender equality is so important for humanity in the first place.
Sources (quoted 23.10.2014):
Coe, N., Kelly, P., Yeung, H.W.C. Economic Geography: A Contemporary Introduction. 2007.
Elborgh-Woytek, K. & al. IMF Staff Discussion Note. Women, Work, and the Economy: Macroeconomic Gains from Gender Equity. September 2013.
ILO. Global Employment Trends for Women. 2012.
Mapsofworld.com. World Illiteracy Map.
UNDP. Gender and Poverty Reduction.
Unesco. Statistics on Literacy.
UNFPA. State of World Population 2002. Poverty and Gender.
UNWOMEN.ORG. Economic Empowerment.
world.time.com. 29.1.2014. 37 % of All the Illiterate Adults in the World Are Indian.